I recently had a twelve hour layover in Quito, Ecuador’s capital and second largest city. My initial plans were to read while at the Quito airport and not much else. My imagination had this layover seeming to last a very long twelve hours.
Instead of staying at the airport, I decided to go on a six hour tour with Tours Around Quito. With my flight arriving around Noon, the tour would take me right up to a few minutes before the 6:30 sunset.
Quito Airport Arrival
Gustavo Tupiza, who owns Tours Around Quito with his wife, Elizabeth, picked me up from the airport and we headed straight to the historic district, Centro Histórico.
It happened to be May 24, a national holiday, and the day of the presidential inauguration. We had to get into and out of the historic area before it closed to vehicle traffic at 4:00 for inauguration festivities. After parking, we began our walking tour on Calle la Ronda, a street that comes alive at night.
|La Ronda Street in Quito|
The cobblestone streets and pedestrian walkways meander between buildings constructed over several centuries.
Our first stop was Independence Square, where the presidential palace, Carondelet Palace, is located. Setup was underway for the festivities beginning in a few hours. Many folks had already staked out seating for the evening activities.
Independence Square with the presidential palace in background
Inset: Police patrols on foot and Segways
It struck me that, while there was a visible police presence, no one entering the area was searched nor funneled through metal detectors. I have never attended a presidential inauguration celebration in the US but I imagine that the attendees are all searched on their way into the area.
La Iglesía de la Compañía de Jesús
Gustavo explained that next we were going a short walk away to visit one of his childhood churches. The church exterior was stone with a massive wooden, gold inlaid door. Entering the church, The Church of the Society of Jesus in English, I paid a guest entrance fee and was told no photography of any kind was allowed inside.
|La Iglesía de la Compañía de Jesús exterior
Inset: Entrance door
Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco
A few blocks away, the buildings of the Church, Convent, and Plaza of St. Francis cover three hectares and took nearly 150 years to complete, beginning in 1534. The plaza on this day was frequented by families feeding pigeons and friends chatting.
|Church and Convent of St. Francis from the plaza|
Virgin of Quito Statue
We left the historic district and drove up El Panecillo Hill to the base of the worlds largest replica of the Virgin of Quito, which can be seen from city.
|Virgin of Quito Statue on El Panecillo hill overlooking Quito
(Click on photo to enlarge)
She overlooks the city and from her vantage point, you can clearly see where the historical district ends and the financial district begins. The buildings in the financial district are taller and newer.
|View of Quito from the base of the statue
Historic district in foreground, financial district behind
Middle of the World Monument
Our next stops were devoted to the equator.
In 1936, a monument was built on the equator to celebrate the “middle of the world.” The current 100 foot high monument replaced the original in 1979. What the builders did not know then was that when GPS technology was developed and used, the actual equator was a few hundred feet from the monument.
|Middle of the World Monument|
If you want to visit the actual equator, head to the nearby Intiñan Museum, a privately owned park where 0 degrees latitude, 0 minutes, 0 seconds is found with a well calibrated GPS device. There, you can balance an egg on a nail, attempt to walk a straight line with the north and south hemispheres pulling you in each direction, and a few other activities that are fun for kids and adults alike.
|Balancing an egg on a nail at the equator|
Intiñan’s exhibits include reproductions of some Amazon region vegetation and homes, an explanation of the head shrinking practice (with an actual shrunken head on display) and a solar museum.
I highly recommend Tours Around Quito. Gustavo is fully bilingual and provides day trips as well as muti-day tours around Ecuador. Making my tour even better was Gustavo’s narration throughout the day. He is a history buff and loves sharing his knowledge with clients.
This was the perfect way to spend the time during my layover.
Have you ever taken a guided tour?